Catholics from the Caribbean put their pride on display as people from more than 30 countries celebrated Mass Sept. 3 and a block party at St. Matthew’s Church, Crown Heights.
Auxiliary Bishop Neil E. Tiedemann, C.P., who was the bishop of Mandeville on the island of Jamaica for eight years, was the main concelebrant.
The liturgy began with a procession of the flags of all the different countries and islands of the people that now live in the Brooklyn Diocese. Songs and readings were done in English, Spanish and Creole. The choir was made up of members of the St. Matthew, St. Gregory and Our Lady of Charity churches.
“Today we get a chance to come together and put on display what the Caribbean people bring to New York,” said Bishop Tiedemann. “It is also a time to celebrate the culture and the gift of life. The strength that comes from the music today in Mass and being able to start the celebration with the Eucharist is special.
“The people are from all different islands, so it is great to have them all come together.”
The celebration coincided with the annual three-day West Indian Festival that concludes with the huge Carnival parade on Labor Day. The event has its roots in the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras celebration. The timing was changed to take advantage of nicer weather as immigrants came to Brooklyn.
Father Frank Black, the pastor of St. Matthew’s, who was born in Jamaica, discussed how his life has been affected by his heritage.
“Today we celebrate what the Caribbean culture and the people bring to our neighborhoods and our own country,” he said.
“I came to Brooklyn in 1957 and I grew up learning about Italian dishes and Irish soda bread but I have also had great pride in my own heritage.
“The culture of the Caribbean is so strong and the younger generations could use some of that. Today, I hear young adults refer to their elders by their first name instead of saying Mr. or Mrs. and I have to correct them because it may seem like a simple thing, but showing respect not just for the elderly, but for all people, is so important in our culture.
“My father worked two jobs from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. everyday and he did that his entire life. The work ethic is there. People want to work and they want to earn a better life. My father did everything he could to give me a better life.
“I was traveling one day, I left a small tip for the cleaning crew of my hotel and a note just saying thank you. When I returned they had written a prayer back to me and it said, ‘God bless you, God bless your heart, God bless your generosity. May God keep you safe and happy for all the days of your life, I will pray for you. Love, Ian.’ So when I was leaving I saw a young man and asked are you Ian? He turned and in his Jamaican accent he said, ‘Yea Man.’ I should have known.”
Kerwin Douse came out to celebrate his culture. “I want to celebrate my Caribbean culture and enjoy Labor Day,” he said.
“We are all gathered here and come from so many different islands and it gives us a chance to show fellowship as we share one voice to celebrate. We are here as one community and one Church celebrating together and it is a beautiful thing.”
Lisa Jean, youth coordinator at St. Matthew’s, explained “this our first trilingual Mass. We are gathering today to celebrate such an important day that represents our culture.
“We are here as one group and even though everyone is representing their own island, we are here together as one Caribbean group and one parish. This is a big day for everyone involved and it is just beautiful to celebrate together.”